Friday, January 28, 2022

National Championship 2022: Alabama left asking ‘what if?’ as key injuries derail back-to-back title hopes

No. 3 Georgia rejected No. 1 Alabama’s bid to repeat as national champions on Monday as the Bulldogs won the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship 33-18. But for a Crimson Tide team that finishes the season 13-2, there will always be a “what if” factor associated with the memory of a loss that denied coach Nick Saban his seventh national title with the program.

What if Alabama’s leader in receptions John Metchie III hadn’t been lost for the playoffs due to a knee injury in the SEC Championship Game win over Georgia on Dec. 4? And what if Jameson Williams, the team’s leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, didn’t have his night cut short due to a knee injury in the second quarter of Monday’s title game?

Down their top two receiving targets, and with cornerbacks Josh Jobe and Jalyn Armour-Davis already out with injuries, the Crimson Tide lacked their usual athletic supremacy on the perimeter against a Georgia team that has recruited comparably well.

“It’s a cumulative effect of all the injuries we had,” Saban told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game. “… We’ve had a lot of guys that were critical parts of this team that didn’t participate in this game.”

Metchie and Williams accounted for 56.3% of Alabama’s receiving yards entering the game. Once Williams exited in the second quarter, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young was forced to coordinate with relatively unproven targets on the perimeter. 

Freshman receiver Ja’Corey Brooks stepped up with six catches for 47 yards after entering with just nine catches for the year, but the Crimson Tide became overly reliant on the pass — as they often were in the 2021 season — allowing the Georgia defense to tee off with blitzes that disrupted Young’s flow. Unlike in the SEC Championship Game when he was not sacked, Young was taken down behind the line of scrimmage three times on Monday. He was a reluctant runner as a result, finishing with -43 net yards amid the sacks.

Defensively, the Crimson Tide surrendered several explosive plays in the passing game without Jobe and Armour-Davis. Jobe was dealing with a toe injury after starting all season at corner, while Armour-Davis was out with a hip injury after starting most of the season.  The Bulldogs dealt with their share of injuries this season at receiver, but were healthier at the position Monday night than they had been all season. That showed on the stat sheet with quarterback Stetson Bennett IV distributing his 17 completions to nine different receivers — including a 52-yard bomb to George Pickens — against Alabama’s depleted secondary.

“But I’m extremely proud of this team,” said Saban. “This team won the SEC championship, beat Georgia to do it. Obviously, they beat us today. I hated that, having such a great season and accomplishing so much as a team, that we didn’t finish the fourth quarter better than we did. It’s disappointing, and I know they’re disappointed, but I’m really proud of this group. They overcame a lot to get here today. We just didn’t finish in the fourth quarter.”

Need more college football in your life? Listen below and subscribe to the Cover 3 Podcast where we break down Georgia’s first national championship win since 1980. 

Georgia Bulldogs championship gear released

The Dawgs have won their first national championship in 41 years! You can now buy Georgia championship shirts, hats, hoodies and much more to celebrate the historic win. Get gear here now!

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